Now Hear Me Out: Loser Moves On

We’re in some extreme times. The clock is ticking down on the NHL season for 2019-20, even though they’re really trying to keep a brave face considering they’re losing billions if they in fact do cancel. Especially with the postponement of the NHL Combines, Awards (NOT THOSE!!!), and the Draft; there’s some pretty crazy ideas out there about if the season were to be severely delayed– who could get the first overall pick; especially since if the league were to come back; they’d go right into the playoffs.

There’s one eager team that thinks there’s only one way to rightfully see who gets the top pick– a tournament. Basically the NIT of the NHL. Sure, seems unfair to fuck over Detroit and Ottawa of that possible pick– despite the assurances they’re allegedly going to get.

This is a good idea. I think we all like a one-and-done situation, where each game is Game Seven. However…NOW HEAR ME OUT…THE LOSER MOVES ON IN THE TOURNAMENT!!

Why would the team that wins this whole damn thing be in line for a lottery pick?? In fact, it actually proves the opposite because if they win that damn thing; they’re the team that needs the least help of a lottery pick. Of course, you have to think it’s a fringe team that proposed this in hopes of fleecing the league and other teams to bolster their line-up and really spit in the face of parity.

Yet, when you think of the whole “LOSER MOVES ON” thing, it makes sense because teams that lose need the better odds at a lottery pick. Plus, after this break, you think players really want to prolong the season they got paused for a meaningless tournament that they might not reap the benefits from.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT TANKING?!?!” You’re screaming because you’ve been couped up in the house too long. Well, if you believe that the hockey players mentality is that they want to win their last game of the year and, for contract-year players, show off their stuff and how they can excel in these games against lesser opponents…thus getting them more money on the open market. Plus, a return to their summer vacation over playing meaningless games.

Listen, if you’re going to have a tournament for the lottery picks, it needs to be limited to the six worst teams. The worst and second-worst will get byes and then face against the winners of the other games. It goes with the whole thing that a team can’t move up more than five spots. Give that hope to the sixth-worst team they could get the 2nd overall pick without the use of a lottery ball. That’s the only way in the scenario that a “winner-moves-on” idea works.

It’s chaos out there– so why not flip the script on tournaments and have the losers move forward for losing…like how the Draft is supposed to be weighted.

On the Topic Of Leagues Shutting Down

The SPHL is over. The ECHL is over. Given the CDC’s suggestion of two months being the earliest this dystopian, confined atmosphere can maybe move toward living normally again– we could probably see the AHL and possible NHL do the same thing.

For the lower minor leagues, it’s understandable with the uncertainty of the ever-changing guidelines in the face of this whole ordeal. Add that to players visas, travel of teams and players over the border, availability of arenas that they don’t own; it was a perfect storm for these leagues to get shuddered early.

ECHL players get their last paycheck today, which is on average $600 a payday. Players are obviously panicking for money like everyone else who has their places of business shut down or reduced hours. Teams are also going to have plenty of losses with home games being removed, thus lost revenues and all of that. It’s a bad time all around.

And in all honesty, I wouldn’t hate it if the NHL and AHL shut down for the year. Would it suck for no Cup to be awarded?? Absolutely. As a Caps fan, would it suck for Alex Ovechkin not getting 50 goals despite being so close?? Most definitely. But for the greater good and not to rush a season in a half in what amounts to a calendar year– losses should be cut and then move on from there as a people into the next season.

For the players and for the fans, it’s the best to end it now and not give false hope when there’s other things to be concerned with. It would give one less financial burden for fans to worry about, it wouldn’t rush the players back into an important game-state after a long layoff, and it would reset the clock with the Draft and then into free agency.

Like I’ve said prior, shit’s crazy right now. The hope and the hype is all over the place. Common sense fails all of us right now and while sports are a nice distraction from it all– the best way is to throw it all out and start anew in October. It’s not just the staying away from people portion, it’s the matter of money is going to be very tight and the last thing people need to worry about is paying for playoff tickets and the other items that come when you go to a game in an arena.

Step off the ledge, everyone; breathe, and let’s get back at ‘er sooner than later, but not too soon to set people back more.

Now Hear Me Out: NHL Playoffs…March Madness Style

The NHL is going through their pause with everything else on Earth. Now, the NBA said that they’ll be delayed at least 30 days, which you’d have to think the NHL would be in the same boat. That puts us into mid-April right when the playoffs were to start.

Most teams have played around 70 games, leaving 12 games or so to finish out the season. That puts us until about early to mid-May for playoffs. There’s really two options: play out the season and really delay the playoffs or end the season and start playoffs right then and there when the season comes back. The first option will have some complain that the season is too long and isn’t give player recovery time for next season. The second makes people who have teams in heavy playoff races mad because they could have gotten in with the last games of the season.

So, here me out– end the season as it is, but everyone makes the playoffs. The NHL does a March Madness style playoff. The first round will be a one-and-done game, the next rounds will be Best-of-Five until the Cup Final, which will be Best-of-Seven. Seed in the way of points percentage to balance it out better, with the top team getting a first round bye to make sure the brackets are even through the rest of the playoffs. Opening round– 2 vs. 31, 3 vs. 30 and so on to get the 15 winners, then reseed again as per usual.

We’re in pretty crazy times in the world, so why not make it a crazy playoff as well. Is it a bit unfair?? Sure, but it’s also a bit fun and unpredictable. Why not make this season a fun one and bring some hype to the game, while also not getting too far off the track on how things are done in the off-season and maybe ending the playoffs early to get players more rest going into next season.

Media Access, COVID-19, and You

We are all mind-numbingly aware of the COVID-19 virus (I’m only going to call it C-19 moving onward) and we know what it’s done to the social landscape of the world. Obviously, sports is put into this and has led to leagues shutting down their locker room access and even possibly playing in front of empty arenas (although the AHL already did that).

My opinion is good. While it’s probably an overreaction to what equates to a beefed-up pneumonia, you rather err on the side of caution rather than have to clean up the mess that comes from not taking the right moves in the first place. Playing catch-up is never fun, especially in a wide-spread illness.

But seeing media people hem and haul about the shutting down of locker rooms and access to players and give a vague threat to the leagues bascially saying, “This better be temporary,” makes me tilt my head. As someone who has pieces of laminated paper saying I’m part of the media, I’ve never once thought that locker room access is needed to have a good story. Hell, at the University of North Dakota games; all the interviews for the masses are done in a scrum style with two or three players and head coach Brad Berry. We all get our stories, we all move along. Brad Schlossman is one of the finest writers in hockey and he rarely gets the locker room access some of these reporters in sports get, but he’s still churning out bangers week after week.

Does that help with some stories and such?? Sure. Is it a necessity?? That’s a hard sell for me. Does it equate to better stories?? I’m sure it does. Ken Rosenthal thinks it does (subscription because innovation). To a point, it can be true because access and having a good standing with the players can lead to things down the line and becoming an insider. Also, the point that it’s making the media members look petty because they’re getting singled out and other groups aren’t.

But, when the Colorado Avalanche have a sign reminding media members not to hug players or sit at stalls seems more to me like writers are mad because they can’t be buddy-buddy with some players. There’s not many other entertainment industries that allow people to be as tight-knit as the sports community. It can be considered both awesome and invasive all in one.

If you’re a good reporter, you’ll find a way to get the story without having to make brunch plans with the top-line guys or deal with the stench of equipment by your nose when you sit down in one of their stalls. People’s story writing abilities aren’t tied to all-access approaches in locker room settings. Yes, it makes a story better…but there’s tons of people out there writing quality stuff without having a fraction of the access or really needing it– but they’re still getting respect from people who enjoy the content they put out– access or not.

If worst comes to worst– everyone is connected. If you have a good relationship with a player now and need access to the room without getting access to the room– you should have their number. Text them, call them, email them– if they’re really your buddy, they’ll find a way to make time for you either in-person or virtually. Does it tell the whole story you’re looking for?? No, because it doesn’t have those subtle nuances of a locker room…but it’s still better than no access at all.

And yet, the story the writers are really missing are the impact around the games. The fans who may have taken a vacation to see a game, but will have to wait because the game was shuddered down to fans. The impact this will have on local businesses on top of the impact of non-gameday happens with this panic. The workers inside the venues who are going to be losing money and might already be on a tight budget as it is.

But no, let’s talk about the locker rooms shutting down. Let’s talk about the lack of access being the reason some can’t create a good story. There’s stories to be had out there that don’t require direct player access. You just have to be good enough to find it.

Following the Yzer-Manifesto

There has to be a plan in place in Detroit, doesn’t there?? They were eliminated for what would seem eons ago and looked primed as the favorite for the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft– should the lottery balls be in their favor.

But thus goes Steve Yzerman and what I can only assume is the plan he has called the Yzer-Manifesto.

With the talent they have offensively, the ability to score should be there with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, and the potential of Robby Fabbri are better than what they’ve put out there…at least some would hope. Maybe an addition here and there is needed, but it’s not much of an overhaul as it is developing together a bit more.

Yet, the biggest part of the Yzer-Manifesto should be working from the goal and work outward. Obviously Jimmy Howard isn’t the future of this team and Jonathan Bernier is the veteran back-up to move forward. There’s plenty of money to be had for the Red Wings, so the idea of bringing in Robin Lehner for big money and term isn’t the worst idea. Of course, Braden Holtby is out there– but his instability this season will make some shy away from signing him. Of course, this is all dependent upon how they feel Filip Larson is progressing or not to make a long-term offer to anyone.

Moving upward, building the defense around Moritz Seider– maybe not for 2020-21, but as a starting point for when Seider does get to the NHL full-time. Joe Hicketts will have his time to shine because he could be a now-or-never situation considering he’s wrapping up his fourth season in Grand Rapids.

The Red Wings are notorious for keeping their prospects down on the farm to really grow, but maybe a new point of the Yzer-Manifesto is to not let the prospects overripe in the AHL and give them a bigger stage to perform on. That could be a case for Seider and Jared McIssac to maybe break the cycle of prospects and only be in the AHL for a year, two years at most.

Defensively on the free agent market, the idea of Tyson Barrie is a nice one, especially in the cap crunch the Maple Leafs are in– though if it boosts up as much as they think it will– maybe that’ll be enough to get Barrie under the Leafs banner for years…but you never know in this crazy business.

It is just Steve Yzerman’s first year with a team who has been trending down for a few seasons. This being the rock bottom situation may allow him to sit back and write out his Yzer-Manifesto from atop the Little Caesars Arena, trying to make HockeyTown, USA a thing again and more than just a night for teams to start their back-up goalie against.

Despite Good Press, NHL Looking to Change EBUG Status

You know, people didn’t this irate when Scott Foster came into the game for the Blackhawks, stopped seven shots thrown at him by the Winnipeg Jets, and was named first star for the Blackhawks that night. I guess it’s because the Maple Leafs couldn’t create offense against their minor-league Zamboni driver that makes the talking heads North of the Border all up in arms.

Thanks to the performance David Ayres had, to which he got the win over the Maple Leafs with eight saves– it seems that it got people in Toronto all butt-hurt and is now apparently going to be a talking point at the next round of GM Meetings next week. I guess, since it happened to the Leafs on National TV; there’s an issue with who can become an emergency back-up.

Honestly, though, you have to think there needs to be some kind of parameters to the EBUG situation. To have a 42-year-old slotted as the emergency goalie seems a bit odd. Especially in Toronto when there’s more goalies per capita than any other place in the world (don’t fact check it– I didn’t).

But where do the qualifications come from?? Any goalie who is trying to make it is already out there trying to make it elsewhere and won’t necessarily be available. You almost have to default to former goalies who have hung them up with the exception of beer league and maybe get seen by a coach or someone and gets some practice in with the NHL squad. In the past, some back-ups have come from the Canadian college ranks; but those were when a goalie was injured before the game was even close to starting.

The talent of the EBUG is something that should be hit or miss because you’d never fathom it to happen in a million years. In the past three seasons, we’ve had two come into play and hold their own. And, just like the NHL, there’s a brash overreaction to it despite all the positive press it has given the league since this happened. Not only that, but they’ll ahev to work with the NHLPA to figure out the requirements, to figure out how they can vet these goalies, and what needs to be done so that this doesn’t happen– whether if it’s expanding the roster to three goalies or putting an age limit on it– they’ll make sure that this is the last time we have a fun story of a goalie coming out of the crowd to win the game.

Is This the Last Throes of Jumbo Joe??

You have to feel for Joe Thornton.

Here’s a guy who has done a lot with his career. Closing in on 1,500 career points, over 1,500 games played, Olympic Gold, World Junior Gold, World Cup of Hockey Gold. He’s just missing that Stanley Cup to finish it out.

And it’ll have to wait another year.

Thornton did not get moved on Monday at the trade deadline, a record-setting deadline it was. Especially on a team of sellers that saw Patrick Marleau and Brendan Dillon get moved…oh and Barclay Goodrow. But there didn’t seem to be enough being sent back for the Sharks to part with the 40-year-old vet. His own team, the Bruins, were mentioned a lot, but it seems the price was too big for a guy who is getting on in years and not having the most productive of seasons– which I’m sure the Sharks’ struggles overall could be a reasoning for that.

Yet, will there be another year??

Let’s face facts, Thornton will be 41 over the summer, the numbers have been in a steady decline, and he’s had some injuries that have hampered his play. While he does have name recognition, he’s not the front of the line for teams wanting to pick up a difference maker at the tail end of the season.

Talk about “veteran presence” all you want, but that’s not going to make much of a difference if he’s more a hindrance on the ice– especially in the playoffs. Any contender loves those roster spots for players who are going to make a difference in the game. It seems a lot of teams wanted Thornton as a coaching figure more than a playing figure. But it looks like no one wanted another Reg Dunlop on the team if it’s going to cost them draft picks, prospects, and other assets for a guy who is on his last legs.

Granted, Dunlop won his last game and then moved to Florida to be a coach, but that’s besides the point.

You also have to wonder if Thornton would have been okay just being along for the ride and not being a contributor to the team deep in the playoffs. There’s a lot to be said about pride and how some athletes want to be used when going for a championship. Seeing as San Jose would respect his input before getting traded, you have to think Doug Wilson gave Thornton options to mull over when it came to where he could have been dealt and the offers out there.

So it goes with Thronton not getting a chance at a Cup. It may be the last time, it may not be. The biggest thing is to see what he wants to do and how he wants to go about trying to achieve it, if at all. The Cup is a hard thing to win and Thornton knows as much. There’s plenty of questions going into the end of the year: Will there be any offers from contenders in the summer?? Will he want to settle in a place where he’s not playing a decent size role?? Will he settle for San Jose to start and try to be desirable for next year’s trade deadline??

But more importantly, are we actually witnessing the last days of Joe Thornton as a player in the NHL??

Everything That’s Awful in Hockey This Week

In what could be a semi-regular gimmick– here’s a bit of a list of things that I feel are awful in hockey this week.

The Stadium Series Uniforms: With the reveal of the Avalanche helmet, the horrific uniform for Colorado is complete. The plot has long gone away from the Stadium Series jerseys when it comes to “Turning Ahead the Clock” gimmick. Any designer claiming it’s their passion and then shows these things off is not a good look on the company whose name is on it. The Stadium Series jerseys were bland at first, but now they’re way too out of left-field. I’d almost rather unoriginal designs than the polar opposite of it– which are these jerseys.

Nick Kypreos Ending People’s Careers: Former Sportsnet insider Nick Kypreos caused a stir on Wednesday, saying the injury that Shea Weber had suffered was not only season-ending, but possibly career-ending from his surgically repaired foot. Then the Canadiens came out saying it’s an ankle injury and it’ll be 3-6 weeks. Kypreos is standing by his story, so we’ll see what happens. But for a former TV guy to still try to run down a story, only for it to really backfire on him is very irresponsible and Kypreos should know better than that.

Losing a Hockey Team: With the Vegas Golden Knights buying the San Antonio Rampage to move them to Henderson, Nevada; it’ll end a long-standing independent team with a fairly consistent following. Sure, hockey is a business, but you have to feel for the supports of San Antonio, the staff there, and everyone else associated with the team. They were a nice change of pace from the Spurs and helped grow more hockey fans in nontraditional markets. We’ll have to see if there will be a new minor league team to go there or if they’ll go the USHL or NAHL route should they want a new team.

The Jay Bouwmeester Incident: This is only horrible because a premier athlete had a cardiac episode and almost had their life cut short. The good news is that the training staff on both sides worked super quickly, as did the medical personnel there, so Bouwmeester is still with the living. Plus, reports that Bouwmeester is in good spirits while recovering is always a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see what the causation was and if it’ll force him to retire.

Too Much Hype for Back-ups: With Jack Campbell winning a game, the Maple Leafs faithful exalted him as their new leader and savior. The say that they did with Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks before him. The fact the Toronto fans go this overboard for a back-up goalie is beyond fanatical. Some people might think it’s a great story and something that could be a turning point; but it won’t be. It’ll just be another case of hockey fans looking at Toronto doing this and shaking their heads in disappointment because we all know how this ends– with no Stanley Cup this season.

Is There a Plan To Save Jack Eichel From His Loyalty??

June 30th, 2022. That’s the last day that Jack Eichel has no modifier on his contract. While he has no desire now to leave…what if these dreadful seasons in Buffalo continue??

Parallel thinking is a helluva thing because as we were discussing on FOHS the possibility of Eichel asking out of Buffalo, TSN’s Darren Dreger did a hit on TSN about this same topic (as you see from his tweet above). Meanwhile, Greg Wyshynski of ESPNNNNNNNNNnnnnnn talked about the disastrous seasons for the Sabres. So– for once, Buffalo is getting people in the hockey world talking.

For me, this is the same discussion I’ve had for a couple years about Connor McDavid and the dreadful way the Oilers have been playing around him. For their sake, they have gotten things together for the most part, as to not waste another year of his stardom– but now it seems the focus is shifting to Eichel. For all intents and purposes, Eichel has come into his own slowly and silently for the Sabres and the league for that matter. It’s a damn shame that the team around him hasn’t had the same climb he has.

In this “win now” culture of sports, there’s little room for error– which Jason Botterill is finding out right now. Even the absentee landlords that are the Pegulas are paying attention to the Sabres after the Bills made the playoffs and Penn State’s season is winding down. Maybe not good for this scenario, but Botterill has to find a way out or he’ll be on his way out.

However, I mentioned the Pegulas as absentees and that’s kind of how it’s been. Once they sunk their claws into the Sabres as their new shiny toy– they touted them around, touted the heritage of the team around, and tried to make Buffalo a hot spot for people. Yet, once they bought the rest of Buffalo and some of Happy Valley, the Pegulas really have thrown this toy to the side for their new– and more profitable– ones; which the fans have noticed and really been pissed off about in the blue-collar town.

The Pegulas can be as upset as they want, but until there’s action and some kind of direction for this team, they’re going to be a but of many jokes. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see the tales of player mismangement from this era of the team from some players who left and became bigger stars elsewhere.

Leading me back to Eichel. With nothing on his contract until his full no-move clause kicks into effect July 1st, 2022; you’re going to have the rumors of him wanting out or teams wanting to find a way to get him out. With situations not improving, you have to feel bad for a kid who’s too loyal to a team that may or may not get better because of him. A kid who probably won’t get to see his full potential on a squad that doesn’t seem up to snuff to get into a playoff race in the Atlantic Division.

Odds are, his loyalty will keep him in Buffalo despite what’s going on around him. He’ll focus on what he can do, how he can do it with what’s given to him, and then let the cards fall as they may. With six years remaining on his deal and two left with no modifier, we’ll see how much his loyalty holds if he keeps getting better and the team doesn’t.

TEPID TAKE: All-Star Takeaways

Was the gap between the All-Star Game and regular season always that short?? I mean, day off and boom– we’re back. Anyway, the annual shinny game took place in St. Louis on Saturday night, following the skills competition on Friday. Boy, there were somethings.

SEND THE VIDEO BOARDS AND TRACKING SOFTWARE BACK TO R&D: It was bound to happen sooner or later, sure– but the fact that there was so much stuttering with the technology during the three-on-three, I can only imagine what’ll happen when the serious games happen. The New Amsterdam bottle cruising along the boards looked like a PSone loading screen, while the tracking system could be come a bit of a clusterfuck when everyone comes together. I like the idea of the player tracking, but for things like average speed, top acceleration, time with puck– the stuff that is better saved for a break in action and not in real time. Hopefully, there’s going to be some fine tuning before the full roll-out on the playoffs.

THE WOMEN’S GAME WAS A NICE BONUS: The exhibition between the US and Canadian women in the 3-on-3 Challenge was pretty dang good. It’s something that should be covered more with the PWHPA tour and be a reason why NWHL games are on a network as well as Twitch. Of course, the game was not without it’s interesting takes from the Sportsnet broadcast which made the NWHL have a retort— but it is what it is. Was this a first step in the NHL getting their own league?? According to past situations– they’ve said they won’t try if there’s already a viable league running— but you never know what tomorrow would bring.

TOP GOLF HOCKEY WAS MEH: Like some others, I was intrigued by the Shooting Stars Challenge. Then it happened. Again– concept was there, execution could have used some fine tuning. Many people comparing it to Top Golf is pretty much spot-on and putting the biggest points almost closest to the platform kind of killed the strategy because everyone was aiming for it. But, it was a fresh idea. Not the goalie races or end-to-end shooting we’ve seen in the past, but something fresh.

ST. LOUIS DID THE LEGENDS RIGHT: Al MacInnis with the hardest shot, Bernie Federko with the accuracy passing, Brett Hull with the Top Puck and being Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky’s contractually obligated appearance– the Blues did it right for their legends and blending the old and new schools. It’s been a banner year for the Blues– literally– and they continue to put forth the effort to make sure their history isn’t forgotten.

BRING BACK BREAKABLE TARGETS: Those screens for the accuracy shooting were garbage. Honestly– I get they don’t want to be wasteful, but the whole moment was ruined with the lack of shattering plates or styrofoam or whatever. It just didn’t have the same pizzazz and probably wasn’t as responsive in some cases. Technology is great, being resourceful is great, but figured out a way to have physical things explode on the target shooting.